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Different Lenses, Different Identities

Tim Adelani
photo of Tim Adelani

Tim Adelani, an Account Associate at Rare Recruitment, explores the complex construction process of individual identity. His reflection reminds us that honesty and resilience are key in order to realise who we really are.

Identity. Wars have been fought over differences in identity; international politics and power often revolve around standing up for one’s own identity and we often debate the topic at length on a macro scale. But what about on an individual level? How do individuals reconcile themselves to themselves and choose to define who they are?

As a mixed race, Camden-born, third culture kid, with English as a second language, my experience and struggle with identity is only one of hundreds of thousands across the country. Nonetheless, each and every person’s path towards discovering and accepting their own identity is vastly dissimilar. As such, it makes for the most beautiful stories if one is able to understand and engage with them.

From an early age, we are guided and shaped by the presence of communities and individuals, whether it’s parents, friends and teachers or books, television or social media. These all contribute towards our identity and sense of belonging, but often, at such a young age, we are oblivious to these influences. It is only later in life that we consider how these stimuli might have affected the way we think and act, and how we define ourselves. Sometimes this may come as a gradual realisation and sometimes there are moments of revelation that spark a line of self-reflective questioning. For me, those questions included heavy topics such as “what does it mean to be Italian-Nigerian and how much of each do people see me as?” to the aesthetically frivolous: “why do I love rolling up the sleeves of my lime-green jumper in the style of Don Johnson from Miami Vice?”

Are there good or definitive answers to the former or the latter? None that I have been able to find. It is the exploration of such thoughts that slowly allows individuals to piece together their identity. Crucially, one must take the big questions with those of a narrower focus, much like a painter or sculptor may start with the broad strokes of a paintbrush or a chisel, only looking at the minute details when the main figure is complete. To push the artistic metaphor even further, identity is the most honest self-portrait that you will ever paint.

If you thought that identity is hard to come by, you would be right, and there has been no mention of external obstacles. On this journey, there will be others causing you to question your own identity, rocking you, knocking you down. This may be by accident or through malicious intent, the result is often the same: pain and setbacks. It is immensely tempting, and utterly understandable, to submit, assimilate and give in, and in the past I have, but something sticks and scratches at you at the back of your head. After a while, one cannot help but to pick up where they left off and carry on discovering oneself.

“We often look to others for guidance in times of uncertainty, but we cannot underestimate the power of introspection. Understanding who we are can provide a lifetime of clarity and tranquillity, and better equip us to tackle the challenges that we face.”

If anyone was looking for a step by step manual on how to embark on this Odyssean journey, this certainly is not that. It is personal and unique by its nature, and there will be moments of elation, frustration, confusion and a thousand other emotions. It might take a month to understand oneself, but years to accept that person; or it could be vice versa.

However, there are certain observations that are worth highlighting to anyone embarking on this journey:
Your identity is not defined by others, no matter what they say, no matter, no matter what external pressures there may be, no matter how oppressive they might seem. The version of you that is the most true is the one that you recognise within yourself. While this may sound like fanciful thinking, different people see us through different lenses, resulting in multiple impressions of yourself. As a result, only in the privacy of your mind can you recognise who you truly are.

Something that has been alluded to previously is honesty. Not the selective honesty with which most of us conduct our lives, but an absolute honesty to ourselves (arguably the hardest to achieve and maintain). No-one benefits when we lie to ourselves, and no matter how hard the truth, the only person that ever faces the consequences of such lies is ourselves.

If there were something to keep in mind throughout all of this, it is a quote from Captain Raymond Holt in a particularly poignant moment in Brooklyn 99:

“Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place”

Let’s be honest. Let’s be fearless. Let’s make that journey and let the world know who we are.